10 Ways to be a Better Audio Engineer

3 October 2014

Muchiri Gateri, or ‘Mush’ as we call him, is one of our Creative team members that has reached ‘legend’ status.  (Don’t worry, we don’t actually have any kind of status system or anything like that … suffice it to say, Mush is awesome). He’s a worship leader, songwriter, team builder, music producer, funny man, father and husband, and a whole lot of other things – but most of the time, you’ll find Mush hovering around the sound desks.  He’s one of our senior audio engineers, and is particularly excellent at mixing monitors.

He mixes monitors at our Hills campus as well as for most of our albums and conferences.  He’s got years of experience, so we asked him to share some of the tips he’s learnt along the way!

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1. Be approachable!
Build relationships with the team on stage. Learn to work in context of service outcomes and consider the needs of the wider creative team.

Example: if a mix needs to sound like something other than what you are creating, be open to dialogue and understand that your work is meant to enhance/support what is happening on platform. It’s ok if a mix ends up sounding different than what you originally intended it to be.

2. Do your preparation.
Hunt down information for the service and get the gear ready to be used.

Example: Familiarise yourself with creative briefs, rehearsal schedules, run-sheets, cast, artists etc. Learn how to effectively translate this info into relevant tech info like patch-lists, console set-up, mic allocations etc…

3. Develop your communication skills
Learn to interpret the interactions with your team.

Example: Tech language is great… when speaking to tech crew! Beyond that, your ability to have conversations in non-tech language will greatly aid in bridging differences and working with others who might not have the same level of tech knowledge as you.

4. Be flexible.
Example: When building your patch list, build in contingencies in terms of extra in-ear packs and lines etc. When the direction of the service changes, spend your energy finding alternative solutions rather than attempting to revert things to what they were ‘supposed’ to be.

5. Know your source material (musical/service content).
Example: If we are to convey music/creative moments in their intended form then it only makes sense to do as the platform team does and learn the content we are responsible to assemble and give expression to.  Familiarise yourself with the music, learn the specific genre and how it’s mixed, etc.  If the content is acoustic/folky, don’t try to mix it like stadium rock.

6. Know your gear.
Example: This is rather obvious, but our tools (consoles, in-ear systems etc) can quickly become a hinderance when our competency on them is under par. Increasing our knowledge of the console frees us up to focus on the entire service rather than just barely working the console.

7. Engage with the service.
Be proactive – staying ahead of the curve helps the service and team on platform!

Example: If the platform team deviates from the written song list and all of a sudden we have a different vocal leading a song, we shouldn’t need anyone to alert us. We should be engaged enough to discern the shift and adjust our workflow accordingly.

8. Pay attention.
Remain contactable by the team on platform! Look up!

Example: Simple… don’t make the preacher or platform team call out your name to get your attention. Make it obvious that they have your attention. This is part of the trust you build with the rest of the team.

9. Be honest with your weaknesses and commit to improve yourself.
Example: After any service or event, look back on what went well and what didn’t. Commit to being better next time by adjusting your workflow or being better prepared. Where necessary, make amends with the parties at the receiving end of your mistake (e.g. a missed cue on stage).

10. Expose yourself to the ever changing technologies.
Example: Chances are, there’s a better way or better tools to get your job done today than there were 6 months ago. However, whatever technology we are considering to use needs to be thought through in the context of what our services actually need. Technology should always serve what we are trying to achieve in the service, not the other way around!

Muchiri ‘Mush’ Gateri